Request from the Ministry of Social Affairs: “Equal Benefits for Women Studying Gemara”
A cheider of their own: women studying Torah at religious institutes are not eligible for the benefits given their female peers in academia, or to men studying in yeshivas | ITIM applied to the Ministry of Social Affairs demanding that women Torah scholars receive the same rights as men
Yael Freidson | Yediot Acharonot | 21 February, 2020
The world of Torah study is changing. More and more women now study Gmara and halacha at high levels and receive rabbinical ordination. Yet while their male peers are defined as avrechim and receive social benefits such as daycare subsidies, women who dedicate years to Torah study do not receive government recognition. The ITIM association applied yesterday to the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services demanding that women studying Torah receive benefits equal to their male counterparts.
The request by ITIM refers to women who study at institutes such as Ohr Torah Stone’s Midreshet Lindenbaum; Yeshivat Drisha; The Migdal Oz Beit Midrash for Women; and Nishmat, the Jeannie Schottenstein Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women. The association strives to obtain rights for women Torah scholars equal to those of women studying for academic degrees, as women Torah scholars – avrechiyot – are curently ineligible for benefits.
Chamutal Shoval, a thirty-seven year old mother of five, has been studying at Midreshet Lindebaum’s Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership program for the past four years. “The curriculum is very intense, four full days a week. The rest of the time we prepare for tests, weekends as well, so there is no opportunity to work in parallel,” says Shoval. She and her peers receive a scholarship of 5,000 NIS a month, so daycare subsidies are very important. “I lowered my standard of living to study Torah,” she says. “This is my primary occupation. The state encourages women who study in academia, so why don’t they support me? Torah study for women is considered a privilege.”
In a letter written by advocate Sarah Weinberg of ITIM she asks: “Why can’t women who want to integrate into the work force and contribute their Torah knowledge and skills to Israeli society enjoy the same support and encouragement provided to their female peers in academia? Is it merely because they have chosen the world of Torah as their professional sphere?” Weinberg adds that, “This policy, which is out of touch with social reality, has a crucial impact on women’s ability to gain expertise in Torah studies. Not every woman can bear the financial burden of dedication to Torah studies, without the recognition of being entitled to daycare subsidies for her children.”
The Ministry of Social Affairs responded: “The Ministry currently subsidizes some 120,000 children in various daycare frameworks at a cost of 1.2 billion NIS a year. The criteria determining eligibility for subsidies were intended to encourage the employment of women, through work and through employment-focused studies regulated by government entities. Special cases will be discussed at the Daycare Unit’s Exceptions Committee, and will receive subsidies as necessary.”